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'45 Seconds' has more than one story to tell

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
Published May 12, 2007


Fans of the old Duffy's Tavern radio show ("where the elite meet to eat") will feel right at home with Neil Simon's latest comedy, 45 Seconds from Broadway, playing weekends through May 27 at Stage West Community Playhouse.

Others may be a bit puzzled by the format.

Like Duffy's, the play's Polish Tea Room is a gathering place where stars, wanna-be stars and star-worshippers drop in and out. There's no central, linear story, just a collection of mini stories that intersect, sometimes a little too conveniently.

Think of the play's four scenes as four episodes of a television sitcom, with some running story threads, and you get the picture.

The linchpin is Mickey Fox, a cross between Jackie Mason and Rodney Dangerfield, played brilliantly by Bill Schommer, whose accent, timing and body language are top notch.

In his routines and conversations, Fox capitalizes on his Brooklyn accent - " 'Work' isn't funny, " he says. " 'Woik' is funny." He ponders what makes comedy ("Life is funny, not the jokes, " he says) and whether anyone will show up for his show on a snowy night.

As in many Simon plays, there's an ongoing competitive quarrel between brothers. This time it's Mickey and his brother Harry (Murray Serether), a frustrated stationery store owner who drops in at the diner to badger Mickey into helping his son, a frustrated attorney, break into the comedy business.

Sitting at another tea room table are Cindy, done in a hilarious, high-nasal twang by Patty Villegas, and Arlene, her theater pal, played by Cheryl Roberts. As the other patrons dream of theater fame, these two punch holes in theater balloons with sharp one-liners and wise observations.

Tea room owners Bernie (Edward O'Looney) and Zelda (Mollie Lutz) keep the customers happy, with free meals and shoulders to cry on. Bernie has plans to sell the diner that has been their very lives for four decades and move to Florida, a place that Zelda detests.

That leads to loads of Florida and Florida retiree jokes.

Two oddball tea room patrons, the daffy Rayleen (Sharon Farnsworth) and silently suffering Charles (Ken Murrin) turn out to be perhaps the most intriguing characters of the lot - but that isn't obvious at first.

Director Saul Leibner did a fine job of casting and coaching, and these players do the best they can with playwright Simon's dialogue and situations.

The play is more like a prolonged stand-up comedy routine interspersed by little stories, with the most memorable part being the stellar performance by Schommer.

If you go

'45 Seconds from Broadway'

Weekends through May 27 at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Tickets are $15. Call (352) 683-5113.